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Getting the mortgage approved was suspiciously easy, and I refused to let anyone sign the thing until I had read all the documentation. It seemed to be okay though, just the usual stuff. Blah blah blah we will fuck your shit up if you try and run away without paying us back, etc etc. The discounted interest rate on the loan was very generous though, so I couldn’t get too upset.

With the ship and money sorted, it was time for the rest of our budget. When Roger had said he’d put money towards the ship, it really meant that we could spend the entire mortgage on just the ship, then use his money to buy all the random shit we needed. I would have taken issue with this, except that his name was also on the loan, so it wasn’t such a big deal. So long as he couldn’t just run off with the ship and we were the ones left to deal with the consequences. What could I say, when it came to money, I wasn’t a very trusting person.

I hadn’t expected to go on a shopping trip this early in the game either, but here we were making for the station’s commercial hub for everything spacer related.

“I think it might be a good idea if we split up for this,” Roger mused as we walked into the massive multi-story plaza type place.

The massive chamber was an inverted cone shape, with descending tiers of boardwalks and offshoot wings. It was immense, and I felt a tingly sort of excitement squirreling its way up my spine.

“Going to give us all a budget, huh boss?” Gloria smirked, hand on hip.

“Something like that. Except for Alia and Cerri, you all have a rough budget of 5,000 Ossu, if you need more we can figure things out,” he told us with a grin. “David, you and Jason should go and kit yourselves out with some combat gear. Warren, you head out on your own to find… well, whatever you need. Ed and Gloria, you’re with me, we’re going to go and sort out what we can for our ship’s extra defences. Alia and Cerri, I want you two to team up and find what you need for your jobs. You each have a budget of 35,000 Ossu.”

I felt my stomach sink and my tail droop as I realised he wanted me to go off on my own with hot demon girl, and presumably like… talk to her and stuff. This was going to suck so hard.

“That’s a lot, why do they get so much?” Gloria asked, and while her words sounded a little whiny, at least her tone wasn’t.

“Because Alia has a ton of shit to fix on the ship and science gear is expensive,” Roger explained matter of factly. “Everyone good?”

I sent a silent plea for help to my friends who both just grinned. Oh no. I was being abandoned, left for dead or worse.

“I think the mechanic is worried about being left alone with Cerri,” Jason pointed out wryly, and I could have hugged him for that.

“No, don’t worry,” Cerri said, her voice soft and kind as she stepped up beside me. I froze as she arrived, and then gave a small squeak as her arm draped itself over my shoulder. “No need to worry, Alia. We got this! We’ll come back with all the best deals. Show the rest up as the chumps they are.”

Turning slightly to look up at her, I felt my lungs shudder to a halt as I stared into azure, starlight eyes. God damn, she was so fucking pretty. Plus, those horns…

When I didn’t speak, she turned back to the rest of the crew and gave them all a big smirk of challenge. Wait… I had a name for us!

“Team tails!” I exclaimed, although my voice didn’t actually come out all that loud.

“Fuck yeah, team tails,” she laughed, giving my shoulder a quick squeeze. “Ready?”

I nodded, feeling wildly nervous but also a little excited. We were going to find all the cool shit to put in the ship.

Her hand on my shoulder also felt extremely… intense. I didn’t even have a word for it, I was just hyper aware of it, the way her grip on my shifted subtly with each breath either of us took. It was sort of overwhelming me, but in a different way, a way that wasn’t wholly uncomfortable.

Roger gave a good natured chucke. “Alright you two, if you’re set, let’s get going.”

We did so, Cerri leading me away towards some stairs that led down to a lower level of this gigantic space mall.

“We’ll go sort out your stuff first, huh? I think that’s honestly more important than my science shit,” she commented, glancing over at me with a smile.

I shrugged, then nodded, then shrugged again. She wasn’t wrong, but I didn’t want her to feel unimportant. Plus, it was her equipment that would actually make us the big bucks, at least according to Roger.

“You’re sending me some mixed messages there little lady,” she laughed, her horns glittering in the light as she tossed her head slightly.

Being called little lady had me blushing hard, and I turned my eyes back to my feet. It just felt so strange! I was a guy! Well, not right now I wasn’t, but I’d spent my whole life being addressed as a man and then now… I was getting called she and Alia and lady. Not to mention little, which I just flat out loved. The girl part was weird, but the small part was alllllllll good.

“We’ll go down to the mechanic’s section or whatever they call it,” she nodded, deciding for the both of us. “It’s actually right next to the scientific area, by the looks of things. Sort of like how a hardware store and a tech shop have some overlap out in the real world.”

This time I did nod my agreement, without the hesitation and mixed messages.

The big space mall was incredible, plants were everywhere and so were windows to see out into the dark of space. It looked like the space station was this crazy hodge podge of modules and stuff all slotted together, and if I had to bet my money on it, I’d say that each one could lock itself off from the others in an emergency.

For example, the massive mall we were in right now was one big module, which was attached to the CBD module where the Galicorp building was. Out the windows though, I could see stretches of station that went way out into the dark, as well as a truly massive drum-like module nearby. I was guessing that the drum was the central space port, although I couldn’t see where the ships went in and out.

In the distance, I could also make out a larger dock for the really big ships, and I found myself slowing to an awed halt to stare at them.

“What are you stopping for, little lady, we have— oh… wow,” Cerri said, before she stopped next to me, jaw hanging open just like mine. “That... is something.”

I giggled, giving her an amused look.

“What?” she asked, glancing inquisitively to the side at me.

Words were saying no right now, my voice box having unplugged the phone cable or whatever so it couldn’t be told to work. Didn’t matter to me though, I just grinned and wagged my tail a little.

I watched with a spark of surprised happiness as she understood what I was saying, even without words. “Wait… oh! That’s what I said to you outside the Galicorp building!”

My smile turned delighted, and I nodded emphatically at her, pointing out to the big capital ships that were in dock.

“And yeah, those are also something,” she laughed, also staring out at them again. Then she got excited and pointed, “Look! Look! That big long white one, that’s a Bayma Rakiura class cruiser! It was built for military sale originally as a long ranged vessel for sneaking around supply lines and stuff.”

When she paused, I batted lightly at her with my tail, trying to get her to continue.

“Oi, I’m getting there, I’m trying to remember what I read about it,” she laughed, swatting lightly at my shoulder with the back of her hand. “I think it failed in the military market because another company released some fancy new guns, but they were kinetic and the frame of the Rakiura class couldn’t handle the stress under prolonged use. Luckily, the scientific sector realised that they were perfect for deep space exploration and research! That thing has probably been all over the known galaxy and back.”

I made a face. The known fake galaxy. I didn’t say that out loud though, I was perfectly happy not using my voice at all if I could help it.

"Don't make that face at me! They built the game's simulation out of real data," she said with a slightly grumpy frown. "That gas giant out there actually exists! I've seen pictures of it!"

That caught me by surprise. This game was based on the real milky way? Surely they had to take some liberties wherever the data got thin?

“Yes, it’s not an exact replica, it could never be, at least while we’re stuck in the solar system, but still… it's exciting and impressive and I love it,” she said defiantly, daring me to doubt the amazing achievement that this game represented.

I rolled my eyes, although secretly I felt my heart do all sorts of funny little gymnastics over her excitement. She was a lot cuter than I’d first thought. I didn’t know how to feel about… well a lot of things to do with her.

For one, I was cripplingly nervous every time I tried to speak to her properly. I’d had this happen often, where certain people or situations caused whatever mental pathways were in charge of my voice to just close off. Oddly though, if I just resigned myself to not speaking, then I felt almost comfortable in her presence. I did not understand my brain at all.

“I think that’s enough gawking for us, let’s go find some mechanicy things,” she exclaimed, startling me as she pushed suddenly away from the window. “Come on, let’s go! Shopping time!”